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08/23/2007

Comments

Leah

[this is good] Onderstad00, bits!

It still amazes me that the switching round of letters within a word has a significant linguistic precedent. I thought it was just you being silly :)

Glen Gordon

[das ist gut]

Ick. My mind needs order. It needs a reason for everything, even for sporadic changes. In fact, there normally is a reason. It's just that any question involving "Why do human beings _FILL IN THE BLANK_?" usually has no easy solution. I have no clue what caused metathesis in the word "bird" (Old English brid) but I'm sure there's some as-yet obscure connection that speakers made with another Old English word that caused it at the time.


I don't believe the hype about "wolf taboos" although I'm sure these things developped in IE-speaking cultures "sporadically", as it were. Less assumptively, the simple fact is that *wl̥kʷo- can be mistaken for a wealth of roots in PIE without there being a taboo to stoke the imagination. One word that an IE speaker might easily have confused with *wl̥kʷos is  *loukos "light", for example. See? No taboos required.


On the topic of Latin lupus, I've been contemplating an idle idea of mine that it was in part altered (or at the very least given added connotations) due to influence from neighbouring languages - note Etruscan lupu "dead" and the festival of Lupercalia. Sadly, however it turns out that I'm not as original as I thought (see here). Etruscan wouldn't explain the Greek letter switcheroo though so Latin probably just metathesized the letters on its own before the Etruscans came with their death-words.


You should also check out the Eggcorns website that I coincidentally just found. It's chocked full of (or is it "chalked full of"?) sporadic spelling errors caused by "semantic reinterpretations" of everyday words and phrases. ("Eggcorns" itself is a reinterpretation of "acorns".) Hahaha, it's funny because each and everyday I spontaneously create vocabulary by accident. For me, it's because of growing up bilingual, having been brought up in French Immersion schools. I've blurted out silly Anglo-French hybrid words with people in both languages because of mixed signals in my brain. I've created new English words like "reperate" (from French réparer "to fix" via the pattern tolér-er => toler-ate) and "distach" (from French détacher "detach"). It happens more if I haven't had a good night's sleep. Speaking of which, good night :)

PhoeniX

Ick. My mind needs order. It needs a reason for everything, even for sporadic changes. In fact, there normally is
a reason. It's just that any question involving "Why do human
beings _FILL IN THE BLANK_?" usually has no easy solution. I have no
clue what caused metathesis in the word "bird" (Old English
brid)
but I'm sure there's some as-yet obscure connection that speakers made
with another Old English word that caused it at the time.


I don't think you should put all metathesis on analogy. As you can see in the example on verlan, metathesis is not always dependant on another word, but rather a social environment. But especially a word like 'keufli' is getting considerable popularity outside of verlan using social groups. This is a perfect example of seemingly 'random' metathesis for no analogous reason.

Although sporadic changes are terrible, I tend to still enjoy them a lot, they're quite funny. Greek sometimes has these moments that they loose all sense of direction and completely turn their words inside out. Although, I must say, I'm no t always convinced that these words should indeed be linked to the indo-european roots we link them to.

For example γυμνος 'naked', which the Indo-Europeanists like to connect to the root *nogʷ
-
(I'm not completely sure what the root is, but I mean the root for 'naked' ;-) ) Something went so terribly wrong with that root, that I'm not really sure if I am supposed to believe said Indo-Europeanists. There's several other wonderful examples which I can't think of right now.

Glen Gordon

When presented with the task of explaining sporadic metathesis, a theory based on analogical change (i.e. an idea based on some proof existent within the language's own vocabulary) is preferred over a theory based on purely whimsical conjectures about ancient wordgames and taboos that may or may not have existed.

And yes, γυμνος is another weird word to solve.

It all depends on the specific word at hand, really. Each case is individual. If we're discussing the source of a pre-Latin metathesis in lupus, then wouldn't you say that Verlan is a stretch? This is a wordgame built on the success of widespread literacy. In order for a society to understand the game, it needs to understand that a word is composed of distinct sounds, which is far easier in a highly literate society with an alphabetic writing system. Bronze age Verlan in an illiterate village? Eum, ça me paraît un peu 'zarbi', là. ;)

 

PhoeniX

That's indeed quite convincing, the literacy thing. Nevertheless though, I'd say verlan is less 'literacy' based than when you'd completely orthographically invert words. It's still based on a less 'core' phonetic structure, that is to say, syllables. Nevertheless, the 'reason' behind your train of thought outweighs the possibility of prehistoric word games.

Which is a shame, haha :D I would've loved to see linguistically playful hunter-gatherers :P

Glen Gordon

Actually, I would squirm at the absolutive statement "There were no wordgames in prehistory possible." I'm simply saying that I wouldn't expect a lot of phoneme-based games (e.g. French mère -> rem) in predominantly illiterate societies in the past. When metathesis occured in the past, I think it was far more often due to easing pronunciation or wordplay. However, it's too easy for the linguist to assume erratic metathesis to keep any sort of cockamamey connection alive (e.g. see Sergei Starostin and North Caucasian, or any Nostraticist's work). 

I think it might just be safer to say: Verlan-style wordgames may be possible in some form in these illiterate societies, but unnecessary assumptions in determining the etymology of a given word are of course illogical. The principle of theoretic optimality (aka "the K.I.S.S. principle") should be enforced by placing burden of proof on possibilities with complexity greater than what is spartanly necessary given the currently known facts. So, in the case of lupus, wordplay (that is, word association) does in fact seem likely to me to explain its origin without assuming taboo a priori. Word associations are the ancient form of Verlan you're looking for, I think, and it's even better because even an illiterate hunter-gatherer can tell whether two words sound alike or not. So don't worry, there are still linguistically playful hunter-gatherers to dig up.

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